How to Respond to an Adult Bully


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Often people have the idea that “bullying” is something which only occurs amongst some children until eventually they grow out of this behaviour. Unfortunately this isn’t always true; there are adults who can be just as capable of employing bullying tactics as any young child or teenager.

There are adults who fail to mature that much, there are adults who lack social skills and there are adults who are just downright manipulative. In each case, they may resort to intimidating action because it gets results; in other cases, the workplace culture might foster it in one way or another and they soon learn to get away with it. If you suspect either yourself or anyone else you know is on the receiving end of bullying from an adult, here are some suggestions on how to respond to them.

Remember that the intimidation treatment is not your fault. If you’ve been on the receiving end of bullying treatment from an adult for some time it’s possible that you will be blaming yourself for how this person has reacted to you.

However Everyone is responsible for how they choose to treat others. This can be a lot easier said than done, Particularly if the bully has aroused strong feelings of anger in you. However, a reaction such as this will only prove to the bully that he/she has succeeded in getting to you – which is what they want.

Bullies feed off negative emotions, because deep down in some way they feel inferior/insecure about themselves and it’s only by making others feel bad that they can raise their self esteem. Reacting to a bully in this kind of way is likely to only further encourage and possibly worsen their unwanted behaviour towards you. The adult bully is a coward.


Often what inspires a bully to be nasty towards others is an assumption that their target is a threat towards them in some way, as well as an experience of a lack of kindness from others throughout their lives.

By demonstrating that you don’t intend harm towards them and are willing to be friendly, this can encourage more positive responses from them. This might be anything from a friendly good morning ‘hello’ to an offer of help with something.

However, if after trying this 2-3 times they still continue with their behaviour cease this approach. This won’t work on every bully, and being nice to them every time they choose to bully you is likely to send the message you are rewarding their behaviour/find it acceptable.

Try assertive responses against the bully . Examples of this could include assertive body language (looking the bully firmly in the eye while standing straight), an assertive tone of voice (clear and firm without sounding threatening) and assertive choice of words such as “I’ve recently noticed signs that you are trying to bully me and want this behaviour to stop.”

That said, choosing an appropriate assertive behaviour will – to a certain extent – be dependent on the specific bullying situation. What might be effective in a work bullying situation might not work so well in a family or cyber bullying situation.

If all else fails, consider enlisting somebody’s help. This might be a trusted colleague or supervisor (if it’s a work bullying situation) or a family relative or friend (if it’s a family bullying situation. Speaking to your doctor is also an option, if you feel the situation is heavily impacting upon your physical and/or mental health.


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